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Sergei Samsonov paying dividends as re-entry waiver pickup by Carolina

Sergei Samsonov's list of NHL stops over the last three years reads like a road trip with no plan. Boston. Edmonton. Montreal. Chicago. Carolina.

The way he's playing right now, he may have parked his car for a little while. The 29-year-old Moscow native is turning into quite the reclamation project for the Hurricanes.

It's been barely noticed around the league but the former first-round draft pick has turned around his game in Carolina, putting up 18 points (9-9) in 23 games since arriving.

"It's been a great change for me personally and a good fit overall," Samsonov told The Canadian Press on Friday.

He was picked up on re-entry waivers from Chicago on Jan. 8. The Hurricanes got him for half his US$3.525-million salary and since half the season was gone, another half of that.

The $880,000 gambit has proven well worth the risk.

"It wasn't a big gamble," Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said Friday. "We really liked him two seasons ago when he played against us in the finals. He didn't put up a lot of points but I thought he was one of Edmonton's best players. He had an off season last year (in Montreal), went to Chicago where we didn't think he really got a good chance - the kind of chance that we would give him.

"We picked him up on re-entry so the investment was minimal. He was an experienced NHL player and with the amount of injuries we had, we really felt that there wasn't much of a risk."

The timing could not have been better for Samsonov, who had hit rock bottom in his NHL career, the Hawks sending him to the AHL on Jan. 2 after he first cleared waivers. Was this the same Sergei Samsonov who went eighth overall in the 1997 NHL entry draft?

"After a while you wonder just how many chances you're going to get," said Samsonov. "There's been some tough times but I'm glad things are working out here in Carolina."

Samsonov had a career-high 75 points in 2000-01 with Boston and followed that up with a 70-point effort the next season. But injuries hurt his production over the next few years before he was shipped to the Oilers at the trade deadline in 2005-06. There he racked up 16 points (5-11) in 19 regular-season games and 15 playoff points in 24 games during Edmonton's Cup run.

He signed in Montreal in the summer of 2006 and it was never a good fit. He struggled to 26 points (9-17) in 63 games with the Habs before being punted out of town last off-season to Chicago. It didn't get any better there, Samsonov putting up four assists in 23 games this season before head coach Denis Savard had enough.

Rutherford said the Hurricanes did their homework before taking a flyer on him.

"Even if there's a chance a player won't perform, you have to be comfortable that he will be able to fit into your team," said Rutherford. "We really did a lot of research on him. All the things that we were told prior to making the move, that he was a really good person, that he's a good team guy, hard worker in practice, and still has a good skill level - all came true. Sometimes you do that background check and all the points don't check off but in this case they did."

Hurricanes head coach Peter Laviolette threw him right in the fire.

"Right off the bat I got put into a situation where either you're going to succeed or you're not," said Samsonov. "I think my first game I played 20-some minutes and I haven't played that I think in three years. It was refreshing. I could feel right away that it would be an opportunity for me to get back to where I used to be."

He's picked himself up off the mat.

"My confidence could not have been too high after what I've gone through this year," said Samsonov. "Little by little you get the pieces back together by playing in certain situations and contributing on the scoresheet and being trusted at the end of the game. It's been a turnaround for me and obviously it has a lot to do with my confidence."

He's also sporting a plus-9 rating, showing responsibility at both ends of the ice.

"He's been one of our best defensive players five on five," said Rutherford. "As far as being conscious of getting back, picking up his man, he's actually made some exceptional defensive plays as far as breaking up 2-on-1s or 3-on-1s that could have resulted in a goal."

He's an unrestricted free agent July 1 and there's no question he wants to stay in Carolina.

"Yes absolutely. I'd love to stay here," he said. "I definitely feel like this is the place to be."

Said Rutherford: "We don't do renegotiate contracts during the season but when the season is over we'll talk to him. He's certainly found a place where he's very comfortable and we're very happy with him. So we'd like to re-sign him."


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